Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rilla Askew, The Mercy Seat

Rilla Askew, The Mercy Seat. Two related families migrate to the Oklahoma frontier in grinding poverty amidst the family drama and tragedy that they had been fleeing. The environment is so alive that you can taste the dust and smell the mules, but the whole spirit and story didn't grab me.

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island. Bryson can be engaging and chatty but this book was like being trapped on a greyhound bus with a dull and cantankerous old codger who will not shut up about how the world was so much more interesting and difficult in his youth and how people are so boring to talk to on buses nowadays.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Neal Stephenson, Reamde

Neal Stephenson, Reamde. Just too much fun. And made me want to play Skyrim or something. It reminded me of Cryptonomicon in its pace and plot and I enjoyed it so much I just re-read Snow Crash.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Certainly precious, and not as hilarious as Everthing is Illuminated. But you know, sentimental is ok if it's convincing and I did love Oskar. I am a sucker for precocious children. I loved his grandmother. I loved the friends he made. I like the letters and the narration - I wish his mother had had a voice. Somehow though, I felt emotionally manipulated and I don't think Foer lives up to his promise.

E. B. White, One Man's Meat

E. B. White, One Man's Meat. I really love E. B. White and he is always a pleasure to read. However, this collection of essays written for serial publication in Harper's from his refuge on a saltwater farm was mildly self-indulgent. That said, I am the child of parents who removed themselves to a hobby farm and raised chickens (while continuing to support the family with a white collar job), and this might be why I kept rolling my eyes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

T.C. Boyle, World's End

T.C. Boyle, World's End. One of those multi-generational stories with recurring characters and layered events. Set in New York state and stretching from Dutch colonialists and their vassals to their descendants in the 1960s. Many funny moments and bits of fabulous description but disappointing. At times the twisting of the plot interfered with the parts of the story that could have been more satisfying. I love Boyle's wordplay but not his people.

Aimee Bender, An Invisible Sign of My Own

Aimee Bender, An Invisible Sign of My Own. A fun, whimsical story of young Mona Gray, lover of numbers and of knocking on wood.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

John Mortimer, Paradise Postponed

John Mortimer, Paradise Postponed. An hilarious story of an eccentric vicar and his family in the postwar years.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jonathan Dee, The Privileges

Jonathan Dee, The Privileges. Ew. What crap people. I though at first it was going to be a witty social comedy and then I thought it would be a financial thriller, but it fell flat on all fronts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Patti Smith, Just Kids. I found the writing style exasperatingly earnest, but I felt affection for Patti and enjoyed her story of friendship and adventure with Robert Mappelthorpe. The photographs were lovely.

Lan Cao, Monkey Bridge

Lan Cao, Monkey Bridge. A pretty story of Vietnamese-American immigrants and the aftermath of the Vietnam war in their lives here. It's a traditional format: a daughter recounts her experience in America as an immigrant and her complex relationship with her mother and her gradual understanding of her own history through that of her mother unfolds.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands

Judith Schalansky, Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will. Since being cabin-boy on an Antarctic expedition is not in my future, this book was a good substitute for exploring barren, desolate, and weird landmasses without the risk of scurvy or mutiny. In short, a perfect atlas for those of us afflicted with severe motion sickness who also possess an unrequited love for seagoing exploration.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tim Dorsey, Nuclear Jellyfish

Tim Dorsey, Nuclear Jellyfish. The adventures of the insane and hyperkinetic travel writer/hotel vigilante/florida arcana enthusiast Serge A. Storms are wild, crass, and funny. However they're also formulaic and a little stale - unforgivable for gonzo slapstick.

Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking

Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking. Well, he seems to have become a bit happy and metaphorically plump, but he's still delightfully narcissistic.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge. Once again, a book about parents and children, but this one hangs together in a way that Amy and Isabelle didn't. Perhaps because Olive carries and fills the book by force of character alone. A story of love and kindness and anger; the edge between despair and managing to muddle along each day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Abraham Verghese, My Own Country

Abraham Verghese, My Own Country. Verghese tells his own story of being an infectious disease doctor in the 1980's in rural Tennessee. A moving personal history of the AIDs epidemic in America: sometimes a little clunky and in need of editing, other times dated in language and perspective, still a riveting story and one we need to remember.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Carl Zimmer, A Planet of Viruses

Carl Zimmer, A Planet of Viruses. I expected a bit more from this primer on viruses.

Geraldine Brooks, March

Geraldine Brooks, March. So, this book is about Mr. March (you remember his four daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy?) while he was with the union army. It ends with the reunion with his wife and daughters after his grave illness. It was fine, I suppose. It must be hard to superimpose a story onto one that is so indelible. Made me want to read a book about the actual Alcotts. Are there any good books about Fruitlands? Perhaps Transcendental Wild Oats? I will see if I can find it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The story of Henrietta Lacks, her family, and her cells. A riveting glimpse of history.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Theodore Gray, The Elements

Theodore Gray, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. Unexpectedly delightful. I bought the book for the pictures and ended up reading it cover to cover. A hilarious, opinionated, and above all fascinating window into the world of the elements. Who knew Boron could be so interesting?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Teresa Marrone, Abundantly Wild

Teresa Marrone, Abundantly Wild: Collecting and Cooking Wild Edibles in the Upper Midwest. This book had me eating all the weeds in my garden immediately. I was excited to find out that violet leaves as well as the flowers are delicious in salads, since this year violets are half of my lawn (not to mention my lettuce patch). I also tried burdock root, which tasted like a watery Jerusalem artichoke - definitely not worth the effort of digging two feet deep in clay. Pig's ear and plantain (the low broad-leaf weed, not the banana relative) are two more weeds I won't bother to pick out of the spinach patch. I also recognized quite a few wild berries or fruits that I will try later this season. (Don't fear for the health of my family, they won't even try wild raspberries, so all risk of accidental ingestion and poison ivy contact is mine alone). Recipes are included, but I generally just ate my experiments raw. As a guide this could be very useful, with pictures of leaves, fruits and flowers, detailed descriptions of dangerous lookalikes, and information about season and habitat. I wouldn't be comfortable eating a plant I wasn't already able to identify, though, so the information on which plants are edible is more useful than the identification guide. More than for its utility, I enjoyed this guide for the chatty tone and the author's infatuation with all things growing. She often exhorts to take just one leaf(!) from a plant, or describes the odd places that she has found specimens. This book perfectly fulfills the function of a wildlife guide in that it opens your eyes to the world around you and leaves you itching to get outside.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper

David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper. A fun thriller set in the exciting world of stock-jobbery, corporate intrigue, organized crime, and thief-taking in eighteenth century London.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Orson Scott Card, Seventh Son

Orson Scott Card, Seventh Son. In a north American frontier where superstition and magic work and persist, an unimaginably powerful young boy only survives because more powerful forces are protecting him than trying to kill him. Eh. The first of Card's I've read and probably the last. It was fine, but not great in any way.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead. So lovely that I read it with my heart in my mouth, afraid to breathe. Exactly how I feel about the beauty of this world.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Paul Harding, Tinkers

Paul Harding, Tinkers. A intricate and beautiful book, nearly a poem written to the richness of the world and the wonder of stopping in it. How much of self is memory and how much we live in a remembered world of our senses - all our loves and the beauty we encounter in some phantom connection of our neurons, ready to replay at the encounter of a lost trigger or to escape into entropy.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Nick Hornby, How to Be Good

Nick Hornby, How to Be Good. Funny. And surprisingly it actually was about how to be good. Or at least how a middle class middle-aged middling unhappy family attempts to be good. But I hated it at the end and I thought they were all horrible people.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Machine of Death

Machine of Death: a collection of stories about how people who know they will die. The friend who recommended this told me that the stories vary widely in quality, but some of them are delightful. She was right. And it's fun to see an idea stretched and pulled into every imaginable configuration.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A. S. Byatt, The Children's Book

A. S. Byatt, The Children's Book. My favorite Byatt so far, with an intricate and engrossing setting, and characters to really care for. Olive and Humphrey Wellwood, their many children, and those in the orbit of their complicated family live in a world of fairy tales (not the Disney kind), radical politics, arts and crafts, and family secrets. The story is set in England during the years 1895-1917. It's a time and place that I sometimes think I own, or that a large chunk of my mind inhabits. Those of us who grew up reading AA Milne, E. Nesbit, Kenneth Grahame, and all the stories that grew from those roots probably feel the same. Despite this, I only lately began to learn about the history and politics of the time itself from a vantage outside of mystery novels and children's books (admittedly, mostly by reading Wikipedia articles about various Fabians and other contemporaneous celebrities after rediscovering E. Nesbit), so this story was a perfect pick for me by my mom (thanks!).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Changez, a young man, tells a stranger his journey from Lahore to New York and back again. A beautiful little narrative, composed so that it seemed a lost story by Camus. But despite its precise beauty, I never quite felt the emotion.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jingo and Sourcery, Terry Pratchett

Jingo and Sourcery, Terry Pratchett. Commander Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork Watch dabble in international diplomacy, submarine-ing, and, er, military tactics in Jingo. Rincewind and the Luggage save the world again in Sourcery. I've been saving these since Christmas (thank you Maddo) for stressful situations. Combined with a half-dozen Dorothy Sayers mysteries they contained enough fun to get me through a small patch of anxiety and grinding drudgery.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System

David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System. I loved the silliness and the muchness of words. Oh- and the Great Ohio Desert.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road

Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road. A swashbuckling little adventure.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook. A "free woman", erstwhile communist, and novelist who has lost faith in writing keeps four notebooks separating the strands of her life. Quite beautifully written. It was strange however, that a book with such radical topics had such stereotypical and rigid sexual relationships- the recurring theme was that all "real women" are looking for a "real man" to dominate them physically and emotionally- very strange, especially because there was no sense of awareness of the incongruity.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Jane Austen, Emma

Jane Austen, Emma. Thought I'd give it another try, although I took such an intense dislike to Elizabeth Bennet when I was young that it leaked over to the rest of Austen. It's too bad, because she does write lovely novels. But Emma makes Elizabeth look like Marie Curie or Joan of Arc. And it's very hard to be interested in any of the lazy, stuck-up, country gentlefolk in this book. What a lot of totally useless people convinced of their own innate superiority and good breeding who do nothing but visit each other and eat food that other people make for them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Agatha Christie, Postern of Fate

Agatha Christie, Postern of Fate. A Tommy and Tuppence mystery that I had never read, though I had looked for it - I thought it was called "The Laurels". Not the best mystery, but Tuppence attempting to sort old children's books and continually getting lost in them was adorable.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lucia Nevai, Salvation

Lucia Nevai, Salvation. Crane and her siblings were born in a squatter's shack to the alcoholic trio of a hooker, a lunatic, and a pool-hustler/failed revival evangelist and were starved and left to fend for themselves for a decade or so. Crane was eventually adopted by a sweet childless couple and renamed Princess (she learned to read and became a talented young scientist). I was never quite able to suspend my disbelief and really enter into the story, fun as it was. Perhaps if it had been set anywhere other than Iowa - who could believe the neighbors minded their own business for eleven years?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Arthur Phillips, The Egyptologist

Arthur Phillips, The Egyptologist. A clever, tangled, and darkly humorous book about a man obsessed with immortality and a certain nebulously extant pharaoh famous for off-color hieroglyphs. I should have enjoyed it, but it made me feel a little sick; I couldn't stomach the grotesque unwinding of the plot.